Apple Says Hello To A Chip Off The Old Block: Intel

At Macworld in San Francisco last week, the Apple CEO took the wraps off the first Macintosh computers to use Intel chips: two new iMac all-in-one desktops and two MacBook Pro notebooks, all of which run on the new Intel Core Duo processors. Jobs said the new iMacs are two to three times faster than the current G5 PowerPC models and the new laptop is four to five times faster than the existing PowerBook, which runs on a G4 PowerPC processor.

“We&'re going to transition our entire product line to Intel processors by the end of 2006,” Jobs said.

Apple users and solution providers have been especially anxious for a Mac notebook with a more powerful processor, a situation that industry observers said finally spurred Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple last year to announce that it would drop the PowerPC chips supplied by IBM and go with processors from Intel.

“Obviously, Apple did not see IBM going forward [with development of the G5] at the speed they wanted,” said George Swords, marketing manager at PowerMacPac, an Apple partner in Portland, Ore. Although the G5 processor offers better performance than the equivalent Intel Itanium chip, size and energy consumption issues make the G5 unsuitable for use in a notebook, he added.

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Jobs also unveiled a new technology called Rosetta, which provides a bridge that enables applications designed for PowerPC Macs to run on the new Intel-based Macs. “Rosetta is going to be a great bridge until we get all of the applications universal,” he said.

To illustrate the commitment of Apple&'s software partners to making their applications compatible with Intel-based Macs, Jobs introduced Roz Ho, general manager of Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft&'s Mac business unit. Ho said Microsoft is on track to make the Mac version of Office—a key application for many Apple VARs and users—run smoothly on the Intel Macs.

“We&'re working to ensure that current versions of Office work well in Rosetta,” Ho said, adding that Microsoft has agreed to ship new versions of Office for Mac for at least the next five years.

However, some partners felt that Apple&'s explanation of how Office and third-party applications designed for PowerPC will work with the Intel processors didn&'t go far enough.

“The idea of universal software is an area where Apple&'s marketing has fallen short,” said Michael Oh, president of Tech Superpowers, a Boston-based Apple partner. “I trust that the technology they&'re putting in the box and software will be there, but they didn&'t really address how Office and other third-party apps will run on the new processors.”

Given the energy and money that Apple has spent over the years touting the speed and heat resistance benefits of its PowerPC processors over Intel&'s, the change of direction is somewhat surprising, said John Eaton, president of Eaton Associates, an Apple partner in San Francisco.

Gary Dailey, president of Daystar Technology, an Atlanta-based Apple partner, wondered why Jobs didn&'t use his customary technique of showing how the new chips would be faster than the old ones. “Every time in the past when Jobs wanted to prove a point on speed, he has always done a side-by-side demonstration, but this time he didn&'t do that,” he said.

Dailey said his customers—many of whom are video design professionals—remain in a holding pattern as they wait for the first benchmarks of the Intel chips to be released. “It has definitely stalled the market for me; anyone who was thinking about purchasing a Powerbook has put their plans on hold,” he said.

Apple said the MacBook Pro and new iMac models will run Mac OS X Tiger 10.4.4, the latest version of the company&'s Unix-based operating system. Apple also introduced 2006 versions of its iWork productivity and iLife multimedia suites. The latter includes iWeb, a new application for creating Web sites, blogs and podcasts.

The 1-inch-thick MacBook Pro, slated to ship next month, has a 15.4-inch wide-screen display and built-in iSight Webcam. It comes in a $1,999 model with a 1.67GHz Intel Core Duo processor and a $2,499 model with a 1.83GHz Core Duo processor.

Jobs also touted Apple&'s financial health to the Macworld crowd. He said Apple&'s 135 retail stores accounted for more than $1 billion of the company&'s holiday quarter revenue of $5.7 billion. IPod sales totaled 32 million units during 2005, or nearly three-quarters of the total number sold since Apple introduced the device in October 2001, he added.